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Is it okay to give kids a nightly dessert?

Mother and daughter at the table. Daughter eating a dessert

Dietitian Susie Burrell looks at whether having dessert with the family meal every night can be problematic.

Q I have a constant battle with my kids about dessert. Am I setting up an unhealthy habit by ending their meal with something sweet? Melanie J, via Facebook

A The choice of whether to include dessert occasionally or every night is one for every family to make. But including it nightly can get children into a habit of eating even when they are not hungry, just because something appealing is on offer. It can also prime a lifelong habit to seek out sweet foods whenever we finish a meal.

Eating energy-dense sweet foods at night is associated with weight gain over time and is not great for dental health. If you have nightly dessert, your best bet is to offer healthy options including plain yoghurt and fruit (fruit kebabs, fruit salad or berries are appealing), a warm milk drink, frozen homemade yoghurt ice blocks, or sugar-free ice blocks. There’s also cheese, nuts or plain crackers with nut spread.

Try to keep treat-style desserts to no more than 1–2 times each week — and make sure your little ones brush their teeth before bed.

Plus, if there are foods you’d rather your kids were eating less of, try not to keep them in the house. Out of sight, out of mind!

For healthier, kid-friendly dessert ideas you might like these:

One-ingredient banana ice cream

Strawberry and banana pops

Banana dolphins

Baked apples

Fruit nigiri


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